I was actually a little scared to visit Dubrovnik. It’s a city that I’ve longed to visit for quite some time, but every other blogger I talked to warned be that the city had been taken over by cruise ship passengers, up to 10,000 of them descending on the tiny walled city every day. Preparing for Dubrovnik felt like preparing to meet my idol, telling myself on repeat that “higher expectations lead to higher disappointments!” Escaping to The Elaphiti Islands might be my only escape!
One friend actually cut her trip to Croatia short as she was so overwhelmed and frustrated by the hordes of tourists to be found everywhere during the busy, summer months. I was also scared that my perfect image of this ancient city, one that I imagined would be bordering on dream-like, would be shattered. There are so many amazing places to visit in Croatia, should Dubrovnik be avoided?!
Why I Loved The Elaphiti Islands
My biggest fear – cruise ship crowds!
What I did not know was that Dubrovnik would actually win me over within hours of arriving, that I would be enveloped by its timeless charm and that I would also find there is so much more to this walled city than the cruise ships would have you believe. My quest for adventure (and less crowds!) led to the best sunset spots, quiet, local restaurants, beautiful beaches and the magical Elaphiti Islands, untouched paradise just a short boat trip from Dubrovnik. The city is also a photographers dream, especially if you can get yourself up at sunrise!
Ian and I decided to stay in an Airbnb for our 3 nights in Dubrovnik, and I can’t tell you how excited we were to unpack our bags and have our own little home away from home for a few days. Our host welcomed us with open arms and when idiot over here dropped her new iPhone down the toilet minutes after arriving, she handed over ever last ounce of rice in her house so that I could attempt to let the rice work wonders. Two days later and my iPhone was back in business and our host was forcing bunches of freshly harvested grapes into my hands – Croatian hospitality at its best!
Our first morning in Dubrovnik was when we discovered exactly what all my friends had been complaining about. There were 5 large cruise ships out in the bay, a fact that we were told means that the Old Town population swells by over 10,000 until the late afternoon when all the cruise passengers return to their ships! Ian set off on a Game of Thrones tour, something he had been excited about ever since we left Ireland (his precious Game of Thrones hat has now been to more countries than most Americans will travel to in a lifetime!), while I decided to get my bearings and explore the Old Town and port area, booking tours and planning out our next few days.
As you might have gathered from reading my blog in the past, I’m all about adventure and the great outdoors. And food tours, you just can’t beat a good food tour! I’m honestly not a big fan of big cities and spending days taking photos of statues or visiting museums. I’d much prefer to be cliff jumping into crystal clear water, hiking a mountain in search of ancient forts (which is what I did in Bosnia!) or throwing myself out of a plane. Turns out, there is indeed adventure to be found in Dubrovnik, and lots of it!
We took the cable car to the top of Mount Srđ where we signed up for an hour-long Dune Bugging tour. I was pretty excited as it my first time ever in a dune buggy and with Ian behind the wheel revving up and acting like a mad man, it was certainly an experience to remember!! Our guide also stopped at some remote spots on top of the mountain where we were the only tourists for what seemed like miles, and had the most incredible panoramic views of Dubrovnik. The fact that the sun was just starting to set and it was that magical golden hour for photography made it all the more sweeter.
We decided to hang around the top of Mount Srđ to watch the sun set, and enjoyed a few ice-cold beers at the cafe at the top. We bumped into a few interesting characters, as we always do! One man we shared a table with had hiked up the mountain by himself while his wife stayed in their lush 5 star hotel, researching how to set up a blog! He said they had kicked their kids out of the family home (but in a nice way – they’re in their twenties!) in Sydney and decided to rent out the house for the year so they could travel the world. They’ve been on the road 4 months and their bank account is now 7,000 dollars more than it was when they left, despite them staying in nothing spending over 2,000 dollars a week on their world travels! Absolute legend.
My Dubrovnik reality – happiness
I could tell you all about how incredible the sunset was, how the sky turned pink and then purple and how everyone oohed and ahhhed but I’ll simply let the photos do the talking… I mean, how could you NOT love this city?!
Most of our second day in Dubrovnik wasn’t actually spent in Dubrovnik at all…well at least not in the old city. We spent the morning on Lokrum Island, which is just a short 15 minute boat ride away from the Dubrovnik Marina but feels like worlds away. The entire island is a nature reserve and is almost complete covered in trees and greenery.
While tourists take over Dubrovnik, peacocks and rabbits are the only things you’ll have to share the footpath with on Lokrum! There are literally peacocks and rabbits…everywhere! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones (and let’s face it, who isn’t?!) then you can also take a seat on the replica Iron Throne and get yourself an awesome selfie!
We spent some time exploring the old Benedictine monastery, which is now in ruins, and debated whether or not a trip to Dubrovnik’s only nudist beach was on the cards….and quickly decided against it! I’m a bore…I KNOW! We only spent about two or three hours in total on Lokram, but thoroughly enjoyed the unique view of Dubrovnik (it’s only 600 metres away at the nearest point) and just relaxing on the quiet (but rocky) beaches around the island.
We signed up for a 3 hour sunset kayaking trip that evening, which was by far one of the highlights of our entire trip! There were about 20 of us on the trip and we had two awesome guides to make sure no one fell behind and to fill us in on a little history as we paddled our way out in the open waters.i honestly don’t think we could have picked a better time to do this trip – from 4pm to 7pm – as it meant we were on the water during the Golden Hour which allowed us to take so many beautiful shots.
We were going to kayak around Lokrum Island but as the water was a bit choppy we just paddled to a nearby cave instead where a few members of a group (that would be Ian and I) decided to throw ourselves off the highest cliff we could find and plunge into the surprisingly warm waters below. I was so scared to jump that i actually sat up there for almost 20 minutes. the problem was that the climb was so steep to get up that I knew jumping was pretty much my only safe option to get back to my kayak! It was amazing to see Dubrovnik Old City from this unique angle and to hear lots of personal stories from our guides about the history of the city. If you’re looking for a little adventure in Dubrovnik, this should be your first port of call!
Let me talk about food for a second, because I’m sure those that know me well must be wondering how I got through two entire days in Dubrovnik and over 1,200 words without mentioning food! One thing Dubrovnik is pretty famous for is the Black Risotto (which contains a bunch of different seafood like Octopus, Clams and Shrimp) which Ian absolutely loved. I had some killer salads, endless ice-creams and some incredibly delicious pasta dishes. There is a very obvious Italian influence here, and you might be forgiven for thinking you are in Italy when you look at most of the menus. Despite having a small kitchen in our Airbnb we simply could not resist the temptation of all that delicious Croatian (and Italian) food so we ate out most nights, be it at small, local eateries or in some of the cities more tourists areas. Forgive us, forgive us…but we were in search of a good bar, which we found!
Day three was probably the highlight of our entire time in Dubrovnik. We signed up to a full day trip to the Elaphiti Islands that would also time to explore not one, not two but three beautiful islands. We were told the trip (I think we paid about 35 euro each) included unlimited drinks and a hearty lunch (with plenty of wine to wash it down!), so I felt like we had totally lucked out. By the time we boarded out boat, most seats inside were full so we headed straight to the very front and spent the next hour sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the sea breeze and pretty much feeling like we were on Cloud 9.
Our first stop was Kolocep Island, the smallest of the three main Elaphiti Islands. As our boat pulled into the sheltered harbour my jaw pretty much dropped to the bottom of the ocean bed at what I was seeing. The water was the craziest, most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen. So entranced was I that I almost dived right off the boat in my clothes. I have been to some of the world’s most stunning beaches this year, including a private resort island in the Maldives, but nothing will compare to the untouched beauty of this inlet.
The island itself is pretty small and only has a population of 300. There are also 7 pre-Romanesque churches dating back to the times of the Croatian kings, a big number considering the current tiny population. We only had a short amount of time here so we just wandered around for a while and then dipped our toes in the crystal clear waters, sort of wishing we could stay there forever.
The island is pretty small, so it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to walk around the entire island, through dense pinewoods, citrus forests and olive groves. There is also excellent snorkelling in the small, sheltered bays or if you just want to kick back and put your feet up the bars along the main strip are the perfect place to enjoy sunset cocktail or, if you want to do as the locals do, some local Croatian wine! Head to Villa Reza for a seafood dinner so good that people actually travel from Dubrovnik to eat here.
Our second stop was Sipan Island, which is where we stopped for two hours to have lunch and give everyone enough time to properly explore the island. Ian and I decided to rent some kayaks and explored the breathtaking coastline. If you’re visiting and hoping to do the same, don’t worry about trying to book things in advance. You can just show up and rent a kayak in the little village, costing less than 10 euro an hour. Again, the colour of the water was phenomenal and this time we couldn’t resist taking a dip!
Sipan is the biggest of the Elaphiti Islands, which means there is a lot to do here. Ian and i honestly could have happily stayed here for a few days. There are lots of cute cafes and restaurants and if you have the time you visit a local producer and taste and buy some delicious Croatian Olive Oil. The seafood here is delivered by local fishermen to the islands restaurants daily so you are guaranteed the freshest food.
Sadly this is where our story comes to a quite unexpected end! It turns out the last bus from Dubrovnik to Neum, our next destination on our #Cork2CapeTown adventure, leaves at 6pm so we had no choice but to jump on the public ferry from Lopud Island back to Dubrovnik and run as fast as out legs would take us to the station to make our bus.We were pretty devastated that we did not get to visit the largest of the Epahiui Islands but I guess it gives us a good excuse to come back again…and soon.
I believe both Dubrovnik and the Elaphiti Islands both deserve your time. They are both incredibly special destinations in their own right, and have so much to offer the tourist, the traveller or even the backpacker. Whether you are looking for a week of adventure, the chance to eat your weight in seafood, make all your Game of Thrones dreams come true or simply the chance to visit your dream city…do it. Do Dubrovnik.
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This post was written following a press trip to Dubrovnik, the Elaphiti Islands and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The project “Sustainable tourist development – From Herzegovina trails to Dubrovnik Elafiti islands“ is financed by the European Union under the IPA CBC Programme Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina 2007 – 2013.